Authors: Valerie Wolzien
DEATH IN A BEACH CHAIR
FAWCETT BOOKS • NEW YORK
TABLE OF CONTENTS
This book is dedicated
to everyone who loves to read.
“What is it about the Caribbean that makes everyone feel so sexy?” Jed Henshaw asked, moving a bit closer to his wife and slipping an arm around her shoulders. “The warm, soft air? The sound of the sea? The scent of exotic flowers? The sugary drinks full of rum? Susan? Honey? Susan, are you sleeping?”
It had been a long day. Susan and Jed Henshaw had gotten up before five
to catch their nine-thirty flight from Kennedy Airport to Orlando, Florida. They may as well have slept in. The flight had been delayed for three hours. Missing their original connection to a small island in the Bahamas, they had been lucky enough to find seats on the last island-hopper. It departed long after dinner. Their luggage had missed their flight, which Susan thought was lucky since the taxi that had picked them up at the airport had the distinctive smell of rotting fish emanating from its trunk.
They had arrived at their resort, expecting to find Kathleen and Jerry Gordon, their best friends, checked in and ready to greet them. But what they found was a message left at the front desk: Kathleen and Jerry were having dinner in town. They’d be back late. They’d all meet for breakfast tomorrow morning at nine. Susan and Jed had gone to their little cottage on the beach, washed up, and headed straight back to the bar. They were now sitting there on brightly colored chairs, staring out at the inky Caribbean.
“I’m not asleep. I was just lying here wondering. Jed, don’t you think it’s weird that Kathleen and Jerry aren’t here?”
“Not really. Remember, we should have arrived hours ago. They were probably assuming that we would go to town with them, and when we didn’t show up on time, they just went ahead with their plans.”
“Yes, but Kathleen said one of the things that appealed to her the most about this resort was its restaurant; it’s known all over the island for its food. Kathleen and I liked the fact that everything we wanted was here, that we wouldn’t have to leave unless we wanted to. So why would they go off to town to eat their first day on the island?”
“Perhaps they thought you and I would want to stay here all week and decided to take advantage of our absence to explore on their own.”
“Well, maybe, but . . .” Susan sat up and looked over at her husband. “Jed, has Jerry said anything to you?”
“Jerry’s said a lot to me—at work, at the Field Club, at the boring dinner party the Goldsmiths threw last week. But I gather you’re interested in something specific?”
“I was wondering if he’d said anything about Kathleen . . . you know, about their marriage.”
“No. What do you know that I don’t know?”
“I don’t think they’re getting along,” Susan answered quietly.
Although she and Jed had been married for more than thirty years, her words shocked him more than anything else she had ever told him. “Not getting along? You’re saying they have marriage problems? Kathleen and Jerry?”
“I don’t actually know anything. That is, Kathleen hasn’t said anything specific, but recently I’ve been getting the impression that she’s unhappy about something . . . something to do with Jerry.”
Now Jed sat up straighter and turned away from the view. “Hon, I thought this was going to be a romantic, relaxing vacation.”
“Oh, it is, Jed. It is. Don’t you see? That’s why it’s so perfect that we’re all here together.” It was too dark for Susan to see the expression on her husband’s face, but she was fairly sure he didn’t look happy. She sighed. This vacation was sure not starting out the way she had planned it last month.
The idea had come to her one miserable sleety day in January when she and Kathleen were talking on the phone. Kathleen was stuck in her kitchen, baking cupcakes for an upcoming bake sale at her children’s elementary school. Susan was in her kitchen, stuffing her face with leftover Christmas cookies, thinking that her nest was bleak and empty.
“I can’t wait until winter break. Jerry’s mother and father have offered to take the kids so that Jerry and I can get away for a bit. It’s been years since we went anyplace without the kids,” Kathleen said.
Susan could hear the KitchenAid whirring in the background on the other end of the line. She looked out the window into her icy backyard and wondered if the dozen red-stemmed dogwoods they had planted in the fall would survive the storm. “It would be nice to go someplace warm,” she said. “In fact, Jed and I have been thinking of heading down to the Caribbean. I’ve been planning to get on the Internet and see what sort of reservations are available. You know, I was thinking—”
“Susan, I have to dash. This dough is beginning to look a little runny. Let me know if you come upon anything interesting the last week of February. That’s when the kids are on vacation,” Kathleen said before hanging up to tend to her baking.
Susan had headed straight for the computer. A few hours and a couple of cups of coffee later, she was ready to present her idea to her husband and their best friends.
“Compass Bay.” She handed Jed a sheaf of computer printouts along with a goblet of deep amber liquid. A maraschino cherry bobbed in his drink.
“What is Compass Bay? And what is this?” he asked, taking the time to kiss his wife before hanging his Burberry in the hall closet and heading back to his study, where Susan had a fire burning to accompany their usual predinner glass of wine.
“That is rum punch, and Compass Bay is a small, funky resort on an island near Nassau.”
Jed sat down on the couch and sipped his drink. “And?”
“And the good news is that Compass Bay has room for us all the last week of February.”
Jed took another sip. “This is excellent. A little sweet, but excellent.”
“And wouldn’t a week spent in the sun, swimming, kayaking, and eating good food and drinking rum punch be excellent, too?”
“Susan, I’ve been slogging through freezing slush for the past five days. The heat on the train was on the blink tonight and my toes may never thaw out. I had lunch with one of the agency’s most important clients today. He ate and drank and I talked and talked and talked, so I’m starving and this rum is going straight to my head. If you’re suggesting that we go someplace warm for a few days, the answer is yes, fine, great. Let’s go ASAP.”
“The Hancock schools’ winter break is the last week of February.”
Jed placed his drink on the coffee table before him and looked up at his wife. “Susan, we haven’t had anyone in the Hancock schools for over three years.”
“I know that, Jed! But Alex and Emily are still in elementary school.”
“Jerry’s kids? What do they have to do with it? Good lord, you’re not telling me that you’re planning on bringing them on a trip with us. They’re cute kids, but they’re not the perfect travel companions.”
“Of course not, Jed. But I was thinking how much fun it would be if the four of us—Jerry and Kathleen and you and I—went to this place, Compass Bay, together. And they can’t get away until their kids are on vacation. Jerry’s parents have offered to baby-sit them.”
“So you’re serious about the last week of February.” Jed was reaching into his shirt pocket for his Palm Pilot.
“Yes.” She waited a moment while he pressed an amazing number of buttons. “Is it a good time for you to be away from work?”
“It is. Tell me more about this Compass place.”
“It’s not Compass Place, it’s Compass Bay. It’s small. Just sixteen cottages and they’re all on the beach. I think they all have balconies or porches or decks or something that overlook the water. There’s a restaurant, a bar, a pool, a dock, and kayaks, and snorkeling, and . . . and whatever you want, I guess.”
“I wouldn’t mind another drink like this,” Jed said, thumbing through the printout, pausing to admire a young blond in a very skimpy swimsuit before continuing. “You say this place has room for us the last week of February?”
“Yes. In fact, I already made reservations. Two deluxe cottages for two people. They have queen-size beds—”
“In-room safes, refrigerators, CD players, air-conditioning, ceiling fan, handmade batik fabrics, and original art by local artists.”
“Just reading the publicity. The rooms sure seem attractive. Wood walls, high ceilings, lots of bright colors.” He glanced up at his wife and smiled. “I’m really looking forward to this.”
“I just hope Kathleen and Jerry are as enthusiastic as you are.”
Kathleen and Jerry had been even more enthusiastic than Jed. Kathleen and Susan went shopping in the resort departments of Bloomingdale’s and Saks and came home with armfuls of brightly colored shorts and tops. Kathleen bought a gorgeous turquoise bikini. Susan stuck to her black one-piece suit, hoping the brilliant pareo the saleswoman had shown her how to tie around her hips would add an element of dash while covering her cellulite. They both had new straw beach bags, and Susan had bought an amazing Kaminski raffia hat with a wide, droopy brim.
The weather had worsened, and Susan’s preswimsuit diet was undermined by the baking she had done to keep depression from the door during the repetitious winter storms. Jed and Jerry were overwhelmed by a project at the advertising agency where they both worked. Kathleen was busy straightening her home for the arrival of her in-laws, but she and Susan spoke on the phone daily, both women claiming to be anxious for the days to pass until they left. A last-minute problem at the office caused Jed to delay his departure by twenty-four hours. He suggested that Susan go on ahead with Jerry and Kathleen, but she decided that beginning their romantic vacation alone wasn’t an option. That’s how they had ended up arriving this evening, a day after the Gordons.
Susan continued her questions. “So you haven’t gotten any hints that Jerry and Kathleen aren’t getting along?”
Jed drained his drink, and before he could answer, a good-looking black woman appeared and suggested a refill. “Yes, thank you.” He accepted her offer. “And is there any chance that the kitchen is still open? Our plane was late and we haven’t eaten much more than pretzels all day long.”
With a promise to find them some nourishment, the waitress hurried off, and Jed was left to answer his wife’s question. He sighed deeply before doing so. “You know I don’t notice the things you do, hon. But, yes, I have noticed that something is bothering Jerry. But I don’t know that it has anything to do with his marriage. At least, he hasn’t said anything to me that would lead me to think that. But he’s been distracted at work and sort of standoffish, I suppose you could say.”
Susan had no intention of letting that stand unexplored. “What do you mean? Exactly how has he been acting?”
“It’s hard to explain. It’s not like there’s anything specific. If you hadn’t brought it up, I wouldn’t have said anything at all. We’ve been working very hard; maybe he’s just tired. We’re none of us as young as we used to be.”
“You said standoffish. What did you mean when you said standoffish?” she continued to probe.
“Look, I probably shouldn’t have used that word. We’ve been working together almost constantly for the last month and a half. Maybe Jerry’s tired at the end of the day. Maybe he just isn’t interested in sitting in the bar car and chatting after a long day at the office.”
“Like you and he have been doing for decades,” Susan pointed out.
“People change,” was his brief reply. “Look, Susan, you’re not going to ruin our vacation worrying about someone else’s marriage, are you?”
“No, of course I’m not! But maybe we can help them out,” she suggested.
“How?” Jed sounded hesitant.
“By showing them just how happy we are after all these years,” she suggested, reaching out and squeezing his knee.
She could see his smile in the moonlight. “Sounds good to me.” He leaned over and kissed the tip of her nose.
A large tray of grilled shrimp, tiny crab cakes with a fruit coulis, and gorgeous tropical fruit kabobs with a dipping sauce was placed on a small table pulled up by Susan’s side. Two fresh drinks appeared as well.
“This looks delicious,” Jed said. “Thank you. Can you just add it to our bill?”
“Of course. What is your room number?”
“It’s . . . to be honest, I don’t know. Susan?”
“I don’t know, either. We’re in the red cottage with the wooden rooster over the door,” Susan added.
“No problem. You must be the Henshaws. Welcome to Compass Bay.”
“Thank you. Perhaps you’ve met our friends? The Gordons? Are they in the cottage next to ours?”
“The Gordons? The man with the young wife?”
“I . . . I suppose you could describe them like that.” Susan had never thought of her friends in those terms. Jerry had lost his first wife and their two children in an automobile accident a few years before Kathleen had come to Hancock. She was over a decade younger than he, but the difference in their ages somehow rarely came up.
“They are in the cottage on the way to you—the first one in line—the blue one next to the gift shop. They went into town for dinner, I believe. I guess Mrs. Gordon is feeling better.”
“What do you mean? Was she ill?”
“I ran into her early in the evening. She was sitting alone in the gazebo.” The woman nodded out to sea, and Susan realized she was referring to the straw-roofed platform over the water at the end of the long dock. “I thought she had been crying, but she said she had a headache. I tell her of the island remedy we all use. I guess it worked.”